Court of Appeals Opinions

Format: 02/20/2018
Format: 02/20/2018
Steven Santore, et al. v. Karloss Stevenson, et al.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

At issue in this personal injury action is whether the trial court erred by striking the defendant’s affirmative defense that an unknown “John Doe” driver of an Averitt Express truck was comparatively at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries. Relying on Brown v. Wal- Mart Discount Cities, 12 S.W.3d 785 (Tenn. 2000) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-1-119, the trial court struck the affirmative defense as to John Doe and Averitt Express upon the finding that the defendant failed to sufficiently identify John Doe so that the plaintiff may serve process on John Doe. We have determined the trial court’s discretionary decision to strike the affirmative defense of comparative fault as to John Doe and Averitt Express was premature because the defendant was not afforded a reasonable opportunity to engage in pre-trial discovery to endeavor as to the identity of John Doe in sufficient detail for the plaintiff to serve process on John Doe. Therefore, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/20/18
Deborah Evans Wilhoit v. Gary Dennis Wilhoit
Authoring Judge: Judge Kenny Armstrong
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe Thompson

This is a post-divorce modification of alimony case. Appellant/Husband contends that the trial court erred by not terminating his alimony in futuro and life insurance obligations. We conclude that Husband’s alimony obligation should be modified to $500 per month so that the parties can retain enough assets to continue to support themselves for a longer duration. Affirmed as modified.

Sumner County Court of Appeals 02/16/18
George Metz, Et Al. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville And Davidson County, TN, Et Al.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

This appeal arises from the dismissal of a petition for writ of certiorari to challenge two administrative decisions by the Planning Commission of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Davidson County, Tennessee. The petition was dismissed pursuant to a Tenn. R. Civ. P. 12.02(1) motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The challenge to the first decision was dismissed because the statutory sixty-day period had run from the date the minutes approving the challenged decision had been entered. The challenge to the second decision, the Planning Commission’s decision to approve the final site plan, was deemed untimely because the challenge to a site plan must be filed within sixty days of the entry of the minutes approving the master development plan, not the final site plan, and the statutory period had run. Finding no error, we affirm.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/16/18
Travis Daniel Woolbright v. Lee Anna Woolbright
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Amy V. Hollars

In this appeal, a father challenges the trial court’s award of equal parenting time to the child’s mother. The father contends that he should be awarded more parenting time because the majority of the statutory best interest factors weigh in his favor and he provides the child more stability. We have reviewed the record and find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding equal parenting time to the parties. 

Putnam County Court of Appeals 02/16/18
Bank of New York Mellon v. Chandra Berry
Authoring Judge: Judge Andy D. Bennett
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mary L. Wagner

A bank filed a wrongful detainer warrant in general sessions court against a homeowner who defaulted on her loan, and the homeowner raised counterclaims that the foreclosure was wrongful and fraudulent. The general sessions court awarded the bank possession of the property and dismissed the homeowner’s counterclaims as barred by res judicata based on an earlier action in which the homeowner sought to prevent the foreclosure. The homeowner appealed the general sessions court’s decision, and the circuit court also dismissed the homeowner’s counterclaims based on res judicata. The homeowner appealed the circuit court’s judgment to this court, and the bank sought an award of its attorney’s fees as damages for having to defend against a frivolous appeal. We affirm the circuit court’s judgment and deny the bank’s request for an award of its fees.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/15/18
Robert Harvey Santee v. Stacy Lynn Santee - concurring in part and dissenting in part
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Telford E. Forgerty, Jr.

I concur completely in the majority’s decisions pertaining to (1) the allocation of the parties’ debt; (2) the imputation of income to wife for the purpose of calculating child support; and (3) wife’s request for her attorney’s fees as alimony in solido. In my judgment, there is no error regarding any of these matters. I dissent, however, from the majority’s decision to award wife “rehabilitative” alimony rather than alimony in futuro. I do so because, I believe, the evidence clearly and overwhelmingly preponderates against the trial court’s “rehabilitative” decision.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 02/15/18
Robert Harvey Santee v. Stacy Lynn Santee
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Telford E. Forgerty, Jr.

This appeal concerns divorce and child support matters. Robert Harvey Santee (“Husband”) sued wife Stacy Lynn Santee (“Wife”) for divorce in the Chancery Court for Sevier County (“the Trial Court”). After a trial, the Trial Court awarded Husband a divorce based upon Wife’s inappropriate marital conduct. The Trial Court divided the marital estate, awarded Wife rehabilitative alimony, and imputed income to her for child support purposes. Wife appealed to this Court, arguing that, among other things, as a stay-at-home mother in a long-term marriage, rehabilitative alimony is insufficient. Husband argues in response that he has longstanding plans to retire. We find that the Trial Court erred in imputing income to Wife for two years of child support purposes when the Trial Court also found that Wife was capable of going to school for those two years to improve her financial situation and awarded rehabilitative alimony for Wife to do exactly that. Otherwise, we affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Sevier County Court of Appeals 02/15/18
Estate of Mark Bentley v. Wood Byrd, et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kyle Atkins

In this case, a judgment creditor pursued enforcement of a foreign judgment. Although the judgment creditor obtained a charging order against the judgment debtor’s interest in a partnership and later moved to foreclose this interest, the judgment debtor subsequently moved to dismiss the case and vacate all prior orders by alleging that he had never been properly served. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and entered an order allowing foreclosure against the partnership interest. Despite filings by the judgment debtor highlighting the absence of personal service, the trial court ultimately left its enforcement orders undisturbed. Because we agree that the judgment debtor never received proper service incident to the judgment creditor’s attempt to enroll the foreign judgment, we vacate the trial court’s orders relating to execution.

Madison County Court of Appeals 02/15/18
In Re Nevaeh B.
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Van McMahan

This is a termination of parental rights case. The trial court terminated Mother/Appellant’s parental rights on the grounds of: (1) abandonment by an incarcerated parent for willful failure to visit, willful failure to support, and wanton disregard; (2) failure to substantially comply with the requirements of the permanency plan; and (3) persistence of the conditions that led to the Child’s removal. The trial court also found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Appellant’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Because the proof is not sufficient to establish that the child was removed from Appellant’s home, we reverse the ground of persistence of conditions. The trial court’s order is otherwise affirmed.

Chester County Court of Appeals 02/14/18
In Re Estate of James Kemmler Rogers
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Judge Stella L. Hargrove

This probate action is before this Court on appeal for the second time. Following remand from this Court subsequent to the first appeal, the trial court determined that the petitioner did have standing to file her petition for probate as a “purported creditor” of the decedent. The trial court ultimately denied the petition, however, finding “no basis for either primary or ancillary probate in Tennessee.” The trial court had also previously awarded sanctions against the petitioner and her counsel pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 11. The petitioner has appealed. Discerning no error in the trial court’s denials of both primary and ancillary probate, we affirm such determinations. Although we also affirm the trial court’s imposition of Rule 11 sanctions against the petitioner and her counsel generally, we vacate the specific award granted against the petitioner personally and remand such issue to the trial court for a determination of the proper amount of sanctions to be awarded against the petitioner solely pursuant to Rule 11.02(1). We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects.

Giles County Court of Appeals 02/14/18
In Re Carter K.
Authoring Judge: Judge Arnold B. Goldin
Trial Court Judge: Judge Kenneth R. Goble

This appeal involves a custody dispute between the unmarried parents of a minor child. Mother filed a petition in the juvenile court seeking custody of the minor child, a determination of Father’s child support arrearage, the establishment of a child support order, the entry of a permanent parenting plan, and an award of attorney’s fees. Mother also sought a temporary restraining order preventing Father from removing the child from her care, custody, and control. Following several pre-trial hearings, the case proceeded to trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the juvenile court awarded visitation to Father. Within days of the trial, Mother filed a motion to vacate the juvenile court’s ruling based on Mother’s allegation that Father had perjured himself at the trial. Following a hearing at which Father failed to appear, the juvenile court suspended Father’s visitation, and in a reversal of the its prior decision, ordered Father to pay all of Mother’s attorney’s fees incurred throughout the proceedings. Because we find that the juvenile court’s orders fail to comply with the requirements of Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 52.01 such that we are unable to determine the basis for the juvenile court’s decisions, we vacate the court’s orders pertaining to the establishment of a permanent parenting plan, the suspension of Father’s parenting time, and attorney’s fees, and we remand for more detailed findings of facts and conclusions of law. 

Montgomery County Court of Appeals 02/14/18
Charles Walker v. Metropolitan Government Of Nashville And Davidson County
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe P. Binkley, Jr.

Homeowner brought an action against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) for damages to his property caused by storm water runoff under the tort theory of a temporary continuous nuisance. Homeowner alleged that each time it rained, the drainage overflow from the street caused his property to flood. Homeowner sought to compel Metro to repair or replace the broken drainage pipe on his property. The trial court granted summary judgment to Metro based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/13/18
Bobby Reed v. Willie Kate Reed Et Al.
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Douglas T. Jenkins

This appeal involves the interpretation and construction of a trust agreement. John Marion Reed and his wife Willie Kate Reed, in the process of their estate planning, executed a revocable living trust agreement. They conveyed approximately 204.61 acres of real property to the trust. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Reed died testate. The trust was the sole residual beneficiary of his will. Mrs. Reed, the successor trustee, distributed all of the real estate in the trust to herself by way of a quitclaim deed. She then terminated the trust. Bobby Reed, her son and a beneficiary of the trust, filed this action alleging that Mrs. Reed exceeded her authority under the terms of the trust agreement. He asked the trial court to order an accounting of the assets of the trust that had been distributed by Mrs. Reed since her husband’s death. He sought the return to the trust of the assets wrongfully distributed. The trial court held that Mrs. Reed did not have the authority to transfer all of the real estate in the trust. Accordingly, the court voided the quitclaim deed, and granted the requested relief of Bobby Reed. We affirm the trial court’s judgment.

Greene County Court of Appeals 02/13/18
Stephanie Diane Bramlett v. Michael Lee Bramlett
Authoring Judge: Judge Charles D. Susano, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Lawrence Howard Puckett

This case involves the intent of Stephanie Diane Ellerman, formerly Bramlett, (mother) to relocate with the parties’ minor child. Mother, the primary residential parent, seeks to move from Cleveland, Tennessee to Greenville, Tennessee, a distance of approximately 160 miles. She sent notice to Michael Lee Bramlett (father) of her intent to relocate. The notice indicated that mother intended to relocate because she had remarried and intended to move into her husband’s residence. Father responded with a petition objecting to the relocation. The court entered an order allowing mother to move, finding that the move has a reasonable purpose and is not vindictive or meant to interfere with father’s coparenting time. Father appeals. We affirm. We decline mother’s request for attorney’s fees and expenses at the trial court level. In the exercise of our discretion, we do award to mother her reasonable fees and expenses on appeal.

Bradley County Court of Appeals 02/13/18
Leslie Johansen v. Leon Sharber, Et Al.
Authoring Judge: Chief Judge D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Judge Mitchell Keith Siskin

This appeal concerns a release of liability. Leslie Johansen (“Johansen”) was a passenger in an ATV accident that resulted in the death of the driver, Lee Martin Sharber. Johansen sued Leon Sharber, Personal Representative of Lee Martin Sharber’s Estate, in the Circuit Court for Rutherford County (“the Trial Court”) alleging negligence. Johansen’s uninsured motorist carrier, GEICO Casualty Company (“GEICO”), was joined as a defendant. While the tort action was underway and without GEICO’s approval, Johansen executed a release of claim regarding the Personal Representative which was filed in the Probate Court for Rutherford County (“the Probate Court”). GEICO filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that, as a result of the release, Johansen forfeited any recovery rights she had against GEICO. The Trial Court granted summary judgment to GEICO. Johansen appealed. We hold that the release executed by Johansen served to release GEICO from any liability arising from Johansen’s personal injury claim stemming from the ATV accident. We affirm the judgment of the Trial Court.

Rutherford County Court of Appeals 02/12/18
P. Robert Philp, Jr. v. Southeast Enterprises, LLC, Et Al.
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Charles K. Smith

The tenant of office building sued the landlord, a limited liability company, and its two owners for various causes of action arising out of his eviction. Following a nine-day trial the court held that the tenant had been wrongfully evicted and his property converted, and awarded the tenant nominal damages of $1.00 for the eviction, $23,130.00 for conversion of his personal property located in the building, $5,000.00 in punitive damages, costs of $2,395.00 and pre-judgment interest of $6,224.27. The tenant appeals the awards of damages and costs, and contends that interest should be 10 percent rather than the 5.5 percent awarded. The landlord contends that the holding that the tenant was wrongfully evicted should be reversed, that the tenant was not entitled to an award of damages for conversion, and that the individual owners should not be held liable for the damage awards. Upon a thorough review of the record, we modify the award of damages for conversion of the tenant’s property and remand the case for the court to award interest from the date the property was converted; we affirm the decision to award punitive damages, vacate the amount of damages, and remand for the court to make specific findings of fact and conclusions of law relative to the appropriate factors and enter judgment accordingly; in all other respects, the judgment is affirmed.  

Wilson County Court of Appeals 02/09/18
Helen Shaw as Administrator for the Estate of John Suttle v. Lawrence B. Gross, M.D., et al.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Valerie L. Smith

The plaintiff in a health care liability action appeals the dismissal of her claim on the basis of the expiration of the statute of limitations and the failure to provide pre-suit notice compliant with Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-26-121(a)(3)(B). Because the undisputed facts in the record fail to establish that decedent was aware of the alleged misdiagnosis prior to his death, we reverse the trial court’s ruling on this issue. We also determine that the trial court failed to apply the appropriate standard or adequately explain its decision regarding the plaintiff’s alleged non-compliance with section 29-26- 121(a)(3)(B). We therefore vacate the dismissal of the complaint on this basis and remand for reconsideration in light of the appropriate standard. Reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/09/18
In Re: Mack E., Et Al.
Authoring Judge: Judge D. Michael Swiney, C.J.
Trial Court Judge: Judge Dennis "Will" Roach, II

Barbara E. (“Mother”) appeals the termination of her parental rights to the minor children Mack E., Hannah E., Amber E., Donnica B. and Barbara Jean B. (collectively “the Children”). Donald B. (“Father”) appeals the termination of his parental rights to the minor children Donnica B. and Barbara Jean B. We find and hold that the State of Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) proved by clear and convincing evidence that grounds existed pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1), (g)(2), and (g)(3) to terminate both Mother’s and Father’s parental rights and that it was proven by clear and convincing evidence that the termination of both Mother’s and Father’s parental rights was in the Children’s best interests. We, therefore, affirm the June 28, 2017 order of the Juvenile Court for Jefferson County (“the Juvenile Court”) terminating Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to the Children.

Jefferson County Court of Appeals 02/09/18
Quinton Clovis v. Raquel Hatter, Commissioner, Tennessee Department Of Human Services
Authoring Judge: Chief Justice D. Michael Swiney
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor William E. Young

Quinton Clovis (“Plaintiff”) appeals the February 7, 2017 order of the Chancery Court for Davidson County (“the Trial Court”) ordering, inter alia, that the Tennessee Department of Human Services (“the Department”) reinstate Plaintiff’s food stamp benefits. We find and hold that Plaintiff is not an aggrieved party, and thus, lacks standing to appeal. We, therefore, dismiss this appeal.

Davidson County Court of Appeals 02/08/18
Victoria Leanne Potts v. Timothy S. Potts
Authoring Judge: Judge John W. McClarty
Trial Court Judge: Judge Thomas J. Wright

This appeal involves a contentious continuing dispute over visitation with the parties’ young daughter. After numerous hearings, the trial court reluctantly continued limited structured visitation to the mother. The principal issue raised on appeal is whether the trial court’s rulings were in the best interests of the child. Having carefully reviewed the voluminous record before us, we find that the evidence supports the parenting plan determination and other rulings made by the court.

Hamblen County Court of Appeals 02/08/18
Alecia Gaynell King McKay v. Michael Patrick McKay
Authoring Judge: Judge Thomas R. Frierson, II
Trial Court Judge: Chancellor Deanna B. Johnson

This post-divorce action primarily involves a provision in the parties’ marital dissolution agreement (“MDA”) concerning disposition of the marital residence. The parties were divorced in 2011. The wife filed a petition in March 2015, seeking, inter alia, to enforce the divorce decree and MDA by obtaining an order requiring the husband to vacate the marital residence so that she could reside there with the parties’ minor child and her three foster children. The MDA provides that the wife is to retain sole and exclusive possession of the marital residence until it is sold while the husband is to deposit one-half of the monthly mortgage payment into the wife’s personal checking account each month “in lieu of” spousal support. The MDA also provides that the marital residence would not be placed on the market for sale until January 1, 2013, but it does not supply a deadline by which the parties would have to place the home on the market. At the time that the wife commenced this action, the wife had vacated the home, and the husband had been residing there for approximately one year. Following a bench trial conducted in May 2016, the trial court granted the wife’s petition to enforce the MDA, entering an order directing the husband to vacate the marital residence immediately and to make needed repairs to the home. The court also found that a purported post-divorce oral agreement between the parties for the husband to purchase the wife’s share of the marital residence had not constituted a valid contract. Crediting the husband with $12,000.00 he had paid to the wife toward purchase of the marital residence as payment toward a spousal support arrearage, the trial court ordered the husband to pay additional spousal support arrears at a rate of $300.00 per month and to pay the wife’s attorney’s fees. Specifically at issue on appeal is a provision the trial court included in the order, directing that the wife, the parties’ minor child, and the wife’s three foster children could remain in the marital residence until the parties’ minor child, who was then eleven years of age, graduated from high school or became otherwise emancipated. Also finding that the husband had behaved in a harassing and intimidating manner toward the wife, the trial court granted the wife’s request for a restraining order in part, limiting the number of times each day the husband could text the wife and his minor child. Seeking to have the provision at issue set aside, the husband filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, which the trial court denied. The husband has appealed. Having determined that the trial court’s order impermissibly modified the MDA by creating an extended timeframe for sale of the marital residence not originally contemplated by the parties, we vacate the provision in the judgment allowing the wife to remain in the residence until the parties’ minor child graduates from high school or is otherwise emancipated. Inasmuch as the husband has raised this sole issue on appeal, we expressly do not disturb the remainder of the trial court’s judgment. We remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.      

Williamson County Court of Appeals 02/07/18
Jessie Morgan v. Memphis Light Gas & Water
Authoring Judge: Judge Richard H. Dinkins
Trial Court Judge: Judge Felicia Corbin Johnson

Plaintiff, who fell in a puddle of water on property adjacent to a water tower located on property owned by defendant, a governmental entity, brought suit under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, alleging that the water that caused him to fall was caused by drainage from the water tower on defendant’s property. Following a trial, the court held that there was no dangerous or defective condition in the water tower, such that it was foreseeable that a person would be injured, and that the defendant had no actual or constructive notice of any dangerous condition that caused plaintiff to fall; as a consequence the Governmental Tort Liability Act did not operate to remove immunity. The court also held that plaintiff and the owner of the property where plaintiff fell were each at least 50 per cent at fault and, therefore, plaintiff could not recover. Plaintiff appeals; discerning no error we affirm the judgment.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/06/18
Christopher O'Dneal, et al. v. Baptist Memorial Hospital-Tipton, et al.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge J. Steven Stafford
Trial Court Judge: Judge Joe H. Walker, III

Plaintiff parents of infant who died in child birth appeal a jury verdict in favor of the medical provider defendants. During voir dire, the trial court denied Plaintiffs’ request for additional peremptory challenges under Tennessee Code Annotated section 22-3-104(b) on the basis that Plaintiffs were bringing their claim on behalf of the decedent infant. Based upon the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Beard v. Branson, 528 S.W.3d 487 (Tenn. 2017), we conclude that the trial court erred in treating Plaintiffs as a single “party plaintiff” and that Plaintiffs were entitled to eight peremptory challenges under the statute at issue. We also hold that under Tuggle v. Allright Parking Sys., Inc., 922 S.W.2d 107 (Tenn. 1996), the trial court’s error resulted in prejudice to the judicial process that necessitates a new trial. All other issues are pretermitted. Reversed and remanded.

Tipton County Court of Appeals 02/06/18
In Re Taya K.
Authoring Judge: Presiding Judge Frank G. Clement, Jr.
Trial Court Judge: Judge David D. Wolfe

Mother and Stepfather filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights and to allow Stepfather to adopt the minor child. Following a hearing, the trial court terminated Father’s parental rights, finding that Father abandoned his child by willful failure to visit and support, and that Father failed to establish paternity of the child. The trial court also found that termination of Father’s parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Father timely appealed. After review, we have determined that the record contains clear and convincing evidence to support two of the three grounds for termination, and to support the trial court’s conclusion that terminating Father’s parental rights is in the child’s best interest. Thus, we affirm the termination of Father’s parental rights.

Dickson County Court of Appeals 02/06/18
Cheryl Dortch, Personal Representative of Estate of Latavius Dujuan Dortch v. Methodist Healthcare Memphis Hospitals, et al.
Authoring Judge: Judge Brandon O. Gibson
Trial Court Judge: Judge Robert L. Childers

This is a health care liability case. Appellant/Plaintiff first filed suit against Appellees/Defendants for medical malpractice in April 2014. Defendants filed motions to dismiss based on Plaintiff’s failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements for health care liability claims. Before the trial court could hear Defendants’ motions to dismiss, Plaintiff filed a notice of voluntary nonsuit, and an order was entered thereon. Plaintiff subsequently re-filed her case against Defendants in September 2016 in reliance on the one year savings statute. Defendants moved the court to dismiss Plaintiff’s suit based on the statute of limitations. The trial court granted Defendants’ motions and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice, holding that, because Plaintiff’s original presuit notice was defective, her first complaint was untimely and she could not rely on the savings statute to revive a time-barred cause of action. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Shelby County Court of Appeals 02/05/18